why break the middle one?

why do we break the middle matzah?

An eight year old asked me the other day why we break the middle Matzah for the Afikoman.

I searched in a dozen Hag­gadot and oth­er sources, (includ­ing aca­d­e­m­ic ones, e.g. Bokser’s “Ori­gins of the Seder”) and I can find noth­ing. I am famil­iar with the inter­pre­ta­tion of the three mat­zot as sym­bol­ic of the Cohan­im, Levites and Israel. I also know of an expla­na­tion for why we eat the small­er por­tion. But these tell me noth­ing about why we break the mid­dle Matzah.

Does any­one know of an expla­na­tion and a source?

Here’s what I have in my Haggadah:


Of the three Mat­zot on the Seder table, break the mid­dle one in two. Leave the small­er piece. Wrap the larg­er in a nap­kin to be hid­den at some time dur­ing the evening, before dessert is served. This piece of Matzah is now called the “afiko­man.” It must be found and reunit­ed with the oth­er Mat­zot (and eat­en) right after din­ner, or the Seder can­not pro­ceed.

These three Mat­zot are cer­tain­ly not enough to feed us all tonight. What could they sym­bol­ize?

Our sages offer a vari­ety of expla­na­tions. Among these, they sug­gest that the Mat­zot rep­re­sent the three ancient branch­es of the Jew­ish peo­ple: Cohen, Levite and Israelite. They can also rep­re­sent our thoughts, our speech and our action. While our thoughts and actions remain whole, our speech (like that of Moses) is often bro­ken.

Our words form the tran­si­tion from our thoughts to our actions. We should con­sid­er them well, make them hon­est and con­sis­tent so that they lead to prop­er action.
We have just bro­ken the mid­dle Matzah and will hide the afiko­man, the larg­er half of it, to share lat­er, as our ances­tors shared the Passover offer­ing itself at this ser­vice thou­sands of years ago in Jerusalem.

  • More lies ahead than what has passed;
  • more is hid­den than revealed.
  • True wis­dom is often deep and hid­den;
  • attained by the mod­est.
  • Those whose dreams exceed their actions are still young.

No one knows for cer­tain what the word afiko­man means. A com­mon tra­di­tion says it comes from the Greek word for dessert.

Anoth­er sug­gests that it rep­re­sents the mes­si­ah. Sep­a­rat­ed from the Jew­ish peo­ple, the mes­si­ah will, dur­ing the course of our tikkun olam—our ongo­ing strug­gle to per­fect the world—(symbolized and re-ini­ti­at­ed by this Seder), be reunit­ed with our peo­ple. Today, we begin that process. As we real­ize how lit­tle we tru­ly know, we can break from the mold of habit to accept the respon­si­bil­i­ty of ful­fill­ing our com­mit­ments. We work for that time of per­fec­tion: the Mes­sian­ic Era.

Now many Jews remain bro­ken off from our peo­ple. Some con­tin­ue this way of their own choice here in West­ern coun­tries. Oth­ers remain forcibly estranged in oth­er parts of our world. We work for a time when our peo­ple will be reunit­ed. When this hap­pens we know that all will be free.